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Convenience vs. Confidence: Where Patients Draw the Line on Telehealth

August 2020 Edition

List of Key Findings. 1.Patients see telehealth as safe and convenient. 2. Repeat telehealth patients want more. 3. Despite convenience, some patients just dont feel comfortable. 4. Better user experiences will defy barriers to entry

Telehealth services help patients connect with their doctors and healthcare providers from home. Though the service has grown over the last few years, the global pandemic has accelerated adoption as people seek alternatives to in-person visits.

Our research finds that people who have tried telehealth before are more willing to use it again. However, providers will shape telehealth’s future by creating better digital experiences, offering more accessibility to critical information online and addressing privacy concerns that serve as a barrier to entry for many patients.

A healthier option to in-person care

According to our research, patients began to view healthcare differently throughout the pandemic. As cases increased globally, patients delayed some medical procedures, like elective surgery, as hospitals shifted resources to fighting COVID-19. Other healthcare services, like mental-health consultations, primary-care visits and dentistry also became restricted, forcing patients to delay care or consider digital alternatives.

Patients who delayed care say risk of getting sick from other patients through in-person visits is their biggest concern – suggesting people may not be comfortable at physical locations until pandemic conditions improve. Cost also plays a role, with patients facing times of economic instability.

Reasons for Delaying Healthcare chart shows the top reason is concern about getting sick from other patients and not for lack of telemedicine options.
Graphic showing 79% of people used telehealth for the first time over the last 6 months

For those looking for alternatives, telehealth became a viable option – one that reduces risk, while providing convenience and reduced costs associated with traveling to a doctor’s office or hospital. Our research finds that of all of the people that use telehealth, 79 percent tried the service for the first time over the last six months. 

Why did you choose telemedicine chart shows the top reasons are 1.To lower the risk of contracting COVID-19 2.It is easier than going to the clinic 3.To save time

More accessibility to telehealth via private and government-led programs also led to an increase in adoption. The United States government, for example, expanded telehealth services to around 62 million Medicare recipients, allowing more people to get access to the service. Telehealth services also help providers. Research shows that emergency rooms equipped with telehealth services reduces unnecessary ambulatory transfers by as much as 56 percent and improves response time by as much as 44 minutes – making it easier for emergency responders to deliver critical care more efficiently, while further reducing cost for patients who could be treated another way.

Companies have been working to ease providers’ burden of care through new technologies. In China, JD Health, WeDoctor and Alibaba’s Ali Health are increasing telehealth services. In the UK, Babylon Health is deploying chatbots to help patients identify COVID-19 symptoms though a quick series of online questions. In the U.S., services like Teladoc and Anthem’s LiveHealth are making it easier for patients to connect with physicians. In France, e-health platform Anamnesis is using artificial intelligence to collect and analyze patient data to provide doctors with more comprehensive information ahead of a consultation.

Telehealth trials see positive results

With increased accessibility, more patients are comfortable with integrating telehealth into their routines. Patients say they’re interested in services that let them ask questions related to follow-ups, pre-existing conditions, symptoms, prescriptions and to determine whether or not an in-person visit is needed -- all things that could prevent or delay an in-person interaction.

Chart shows types of healthcare topics that would make patients consider using telemedicine.
Graphic 84% patients ages 65 and up were among the largest population to try telehealth for the first time.

Patients ages 65+ were among the largest population to try the service for the first time amid the pandemic (84 percent). These patients opt for telehealth largely due to increased health risks associated with in-person visits (73 percent). Although older users are not digitally native, almost half (49 percent) say they find telehealth experiences easy to use. In this case, telehealth serves as a resource for patients looking to reduce risk, allowing them to get the answers they need in an environment that makes them feel safe.

Chart shows for all age groups that the first time they used telemedicine was within the last 3 months. 45% for ages 18-24 and 85% for ages 65 and up

Privacy remains a primary concern as healthcare becomes more digital

For patients whose needs did not require an in-person visit, those who chose not to use telehealth services say they feel uncomfortable using video technology or discussing medical issues online. This is apparent when discussing intimate healthcare issues, like sexual or mental health, which ranked lowest among services patients sought via telehealth.

Chart Why didnt you use telemedicine for your visit? Top reasons were 1. Their condition or health concern required and in-person visit and 2. their doctor was not available through telemedicine service.
Graphic: 75% said it was important for healthcare professionals to have digital access to their records

This discomfort could tie to feelings of privacy and trust, which continue to remain one of the biggest challenges for telehealth. On one hand, our research finds that 75 percent of patients feel it’s important or very important for healthcare providers to have access to their records digitally. Research also shows that people in the U.S. are also more willing to share health data related to heart rate, blood pressure and diet – metrics that tie to daily habits.

Conversely, a GlobalWebIndex (GWI) study of U.S. and UK patients finds that while there is growing demand for digital health services, people still deeply value in-person connections with their doctor, with more than half preferring phone calls and physical meetings over digital channels like video, email, and text. Patients are most comfortable sharing health data through devices and channels that they are familiar with and comfortable using, like smartphones or personal computers.

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Healthcare lags in digital experience

Though more people are using telehealth, patients are also running into issues using online services, revealing weaknesses in user experience – especially when it comes to providing personalized telehealth.

Stats on Telehealth visits: 58% said it was easy to find a private/quiet place for their visit. 51% said telemedicine app/site was easy to use. 40% siad telemedicine app/site was personalized for them. 62% said their telemedicine healthcare professional had access to their medical records.

For example, patients say third-party medical information sites are the most useful online resource for research, leaving room for improvement for healthcare providers to share more relevant information on their own websites.

Which of the following resources for information about medication treatment do you find most useful?

Access to online offerings outside of telehealth, like the ability to book appointments, also influences which healthcare provider patients prefer.

I am more likely to see a doctor that has...

More experienced telehealth users are more likely to prefer doctors that offer telehealth. For those with less experience using digital services, online reviews play a more important role as patients evaluate new services.

Chart showing both experienced and inexperienced telemedicine patients are more likely to use a doctor that offers online appointment booking

The Digital Life of Healthcare Providers

Over the last several months, telehealth has provided patients with a safer and more convenient way to manage healthcare needs. As patients become more accustomed to telehealth, companies have the opportunity to improve digital experiences, optimize their own processes and reduce cost in the wake of heightened demand:

Expand applications of telehealth and other digital health services

As patients continue to adopt telehealth, consider how to expand programs to cater to more services, like virtual visits, emergency care, symptom identification and medication monitoring outside of the office.

Explore new technologies

Chatbots, mobile apps, artificial intelligence and personalization accelerate speed and efficiency of telehealth services, while providing customized experiences for patients accessing care online.

Consider experience

Patients want to access telehealth services using tools and technologies with which they are comfortable. By better understanding patient needs, healthcare providers can create seamless, omnichannel experiences that allow patients to easily access online portals, monitor symptoms, book appointments and communicate with providers in a way that better connects all points of the patient journey.

Make information more accessible

Ensure patients find what they need by providing relevant information quickly and effectively. In times of emergency, a crisis communications platform helps healthcare institutions coordinate these efforts by providing greater visibility and quick response when need for information is critical.

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Chart of Research participants demographics